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The Myth of the Common Law Marriage


Unmarried couples living together are by far the fastest growing family type in the UK., yet, time and time again, surveys show that couples taking the big step of moving in together do not understand the legal consequences of doing so.

Recent research conducted by the National Centre for Social Research into social attitudes in Britain show that nearly half of the public believe that unmarried cohabiting couples form a “common law marriage” and therefore benefit from the same, or similar, protection as married couples. This is far from the case, in fact, there is no such things as a common law marriage and there is very little legal protection for unmarried couples that separate.

What is also alarming is that over the last decade, despite the growing number of cohabiting couples, the public’s understanding on the law does not seem to have changed as consistently around half of those surveyed believe in the “common law marriage”. This leaves millions of people at risk of significant hardship should their relationship come to an end or their partner dies without leaving a will.

It is possible, and unfortunately relatively common, that a person separating from their partner of many years could find themselves with no financial interest in their home and that their partner has no obligation to support them financially. On the other hand, if a person has been the main or sole financial contributor towards the mortgage, they could find themselves having to hand over half of the equity in the property to their partner in the event that they separate.

In 2017 Resolution surveyed their members of family law professionals and found that almost 98% reported they had worked with clients who they were unable to help due to lack of protection under the law for cohabiting couples.

The good news is that there are ways of protecting yourself but this should be done at the earliest opportunity as it may be too late if it is left until after separation.It is therefore absolutely essential that legal advice is sought as soon as possible if you are living with your partner or thinking of doing so.One option is to enter into a Cohabitation Agreement, setting out your intentions for living together, and this can help provide certainty and security for the couple.

For further advice or help with any of the issues raised in this article, please contact Richard Buckley who is a member of our Family law team in Sheffield or Sophie Arrowsmith who is a member of our family law team in Leeds.

Please note this information is provided by way of example and may not be complete and is certainly not intended to constitute legal advice. You should take bespoke advice for your circumstances.


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